Germany is a country known for its food — from massive schnitzel to juicy currywursts to giant steins of beer. That was what I had expected to eat for the entirety of my trip to Berlin, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that this German capital is a full-fledged culinary metropolis with amazing diverse food from all over the world. Shows how much I know! It’s true that these are not your typical “German food” places, but Berlin has become an international city, and its food reflects that status. It’s going to be a long post, so let’s get started. Here are a few of my favorite places to eat in Berlin:
Lunch on the River Spree – We had a late lunch at a small cafe restaurant right on the river Spree overlooking the East Side Wall and the Oberbaumbrücke. Since we were pretty hungry, we just walked into the first restaurant we saw, so my expectation for the food was not high. We had the octopus and and sea bream and were pleasantly surprised at the high quality of the food. There were a lot of well balanced flavors and textures in each dish. The crispy fish skin was well cooked, sitting on a bed of creamy potatoes, light foam and bok choy. Riogrande was the perfect introduction to the diverse cuisines in Berlin.
Currywurst – Currywurst and pommes is a food staple in Germany; you can get them pretty much anywhere throughout the country. Crisp, freshly cut fries, and juicy sausage loaded up with sauce and a sprinkle of curry and a side of ketchup and mayo. It’s the perfect food to soak up excess alcohol after spending an evening lounging in a beer garden.
Lunch in the Square – When in Europe, it’s almost a requirement to dine in a square. It’s the perfect place to people-watch as you enjoy your meal. For our second day, we had lunch at Amici in the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, surrounded by the impressive architecture. The handmade pasta with lightly cooked prawns was excellent and the chilli oil added heat to enhance the flavors of the dish.
Culinary Experience – On our last day in Berlin, my sister treated me to a fancy lunch at Tim Raue, a two-Michelin star restaurant. The space was elegantly decorated yet casual, creating a warm atmosphere. Coming in from the cold windy weather outside, the spacious banquets were very inviting. The staff were friendly and accommodating even though we were 20 minutes late. Our experience started off with lemon grass scented towels that were refreshing and invigorating, especially after we’d been running around all morning.
The menu is “Asian-inspired cuisine that can be characterized as a blend of Japanese product perfection, Thai aromas, and Chinese culinary philosophy.” The five course meal was beautifully presented. The dishes started off light and continued to escalate in flavors. The wasabi langoustine is an example of subtle balanced tastes; even though there was wasabi in the gelatin and the mayo, it did not overwhelm the dish. My absolute favorite was the fish. The perfectly cooked cod was the best I’d ever had anywhere. By itself, the fish was already amazing, but when accompanied by sweet pea puree, pickled ginger, and tiny balls of melon, it becomes perfection.
Drink with a View – The Park Inn Panorama is a great place to hang out on a nice summer afternoon. This hidden gem has a panoramic view of the city of Berlin. Paying $4 per person will get you to the top, where you can buy a few drinks at the kiosk, pull out a folding chair, and relax while enjoying the sights. Make sure to bring an extra sweater if it’s windy because it can get quite chilly out in the open. Bonus: you can go base jumping here, if you feel brave enough.
A Taste of Vietnam – We found a Vietnamese restaurant on Yelp and decided to give it a try because it was nearby. Surprisingly, the food at Madami was fresh and authentic. The northern specialty dishes were especially good. The bun oc had a lot of depth and flavors. The cha ca la vong was vibrant with tons of herbs and textures. I had not anticipated finding Vietnamese food in Germany and was pleasantly surprised when I ate these dishes that were not only good, but also a great recreation of the favorite dishes I had in Hanoi.
Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate – Wander into this chocolate emporium where all the attractions in Berlin are made of chocolate, from the miniature Brandenburg gate, to the Reichstag building. Fassbender & Rausch is the famous chocolatier in Berlin and the biggest chocolate store in Germany. Their store is filled with rich and creamy chocolate and pralines made with the best cocoa from all different regions of the world. Their chocolate bars come in different varieties and sizes ranging from bars to sticks to individually wrapped small bites, perfect as gifts to bring home.
Worst Last Meal – Usually I don’t include places that I WOULDN’T recommend on this post. I try to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt if I don’t like it because I was only there once, but my experience at Aigner was so strange, I had to share. On our last night in Berlin, we decided to go to a German restaurant. The thing is, we had to go home and pack that night so we didn’t want to venture off too far so we decided to go to Aigner, a few blocks from our hotel. The service started off bad and continued to get worst. After waiting 45 minutes, our food order finally came, but it was wrong. Instead of the schnitzel and artic char that we ordered, we got two plates of schnitzel and two plates of asparagus. The waitress left the food and ran off before we had a chance to explain that the dishes were wrong. Since the food took so long to come we didn’t want to complain and have to wait for another dish to be made, so we ate. About 15 minutes into the meal 4 people walked over to our table and said that we didn’t order the asparagus. They slammed down the fish and whisked away both plates of asparagus. Asparagus that we’d been eating! Even if it’s the wrong dish, it was clearly their fault. It doesn’t even make sense why they would want to take it away, unless they planned on serving it to other people! By this time the fried artic char was cold, the skin was chewy and the fat was congealing underneath. We left our food unfinished.
Berlin’s gastronomic scene is everything I’d hoped for and more. Their food is bold and modern, like the city itself. Top chefs like Tim Raue, hailing from Berlin have set up their restaurants offering inexpensive international haute cuisine. Not only that, every dish I had from the homemade pasta to the spicy bun oc to the perfectly cooked fish have been unforgettable. Even though our experience ended with a bad meal, it did not dampen our enthusiasm for food in Berlin.